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How ruling helps Knicks in free agency

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The Knicks intend to re-sign free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin. (Heinz Kluetmeier/SI)

The NBA was confident — bordering on cocky, really — that the players’ union had zero chance to win a case concerning salary-cap minutiae known as Early Bird Rights. But an arbitrator threw the league for a loop on Friday, ruling in favor of the union. The league said it would appeal.

The ruling is crucial to the Knicks because it affects their ability to re-sign point guard Jeremy Lin (and forward Steve Novak) while retaining financial flexibility to pursue other players. In the simplest terms, Bird Rights allow teams over the salary cap to re-sign their own players. The Knicks are over the projected cap for next season even though only six players have guaranteed money at this point; such is life when you pay Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire $40 million combined. The Knicks claimed Lin and Novak off waivers last season (the Clippers did the same with point guard Chauncey Billups and the Trail Blazers with power forward J.J. Hickson). In the past, Bird Rights haven’t applied to players acquired that way; the collective bargaining agreement specifies that Bird Rights only go to players who have stuck with the same team or changed teams via trade.

The issue hasn’t been too important because teams rarely clamor to keep waiver wire players. The Knicks, of course, are clamoring to keep Lin. If they are allowed to do so via Bird Rights, they can re-sign Lin (and possibly Novak) and retain the mid-level exception, which allows teams over the cap to sign a rival team’s player for up to the league’s average salary (about $5 million per year). Without Bird Rights, the Knicks would have to use the mid-level exception to bring back Lin, which would mean they could not save it to sign another free agent — someone like Steve Nash. But with Bird Rights, they could sign Lin and Novak, and still have the mid-level in reserve.

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  • Published On 4:59pm, Jun 22, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • Couper Moorhead of the Heat’s official web site examines the development of LeBron James’ post game, complete with video analysis and insight from David Fizdale, the Miami assistant who works most closely with James (and Dwayne Wade) on post play. Great read.

    Beckley Mason analyzes the film from last year’s Finals and says that the difference between LeBron James’ post game then and now is not where he’s catching the ball, but what he’s able to do with it afterwards.

    • John Hollinger notes that while the Heat have tightened up their three-point defense considerably in the postseason (a reversal that may or may not be linked to Miami’s extended use of smaller lineups), the Thunder have shot far more ineffectively from deep than we would’ve expected in this series. James Harden has missed some great looks, and Hollinger notes that Thabo Sefolosha is just 2-of-10 in the Finals. Sefolosha is so important to the Thunder — provided that teams actually have to guard him. He can defend both Wade and James, and in the regular season, Sefolosha nailed 31 of his 71 three-point attempts. That’s a small number of attempts, and that hit rate — 43.7 percent — represents a huge outlier in Sefolosha’s career as an otherwise below-average three-point threat. Before this season, Sefolosha hadn’t shot better than 33 percent from deep in any season since 2006-07 (his rookie year). In these playoffs, he’s shooting 33 percent exactly. We could simply be seeing some regression to the mean.

    Really enjoyed this line from Ken Berger’s piece about LeBron, on the threshold:

    At 27, Michael Jordan had one league MVP award, no championships and no Finals MVPs — not even a trip to the Finals. If James and the Heat avoid something that has never happened in Finals history, blowing a 3-1 lead, LeBron at 27 would have three league MVP awards, three trips to the Finals, one championship and, unless LSD infiltrates the voting, one Finals MVP.

    That’s not really the point, but it is a fact. Jordan won his first title and Finals MVP in his first trip to the Finals, at age 28 in 1991. It was in his seventh season; James is in his ninth. If James finishes the job — Thursday night, or back in Oklahoma City — this won’t be revisionist history. But perhaps it will be the strongest proof yet that the perception of James’ first eight seasons was a case of previsionist history, if I may.

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  • Published On 3:36pm, Jun 21, 2012
  • Bad news for Knicks: Miami’s on a tear

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    The more I watch basketball and talk to people involved in the game, the more convinced I am that it’s just not possible for teams with multiple star players to maximize all 90 or so offensive possessions they get in every game. We complain often about Miami’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James “taking turns,” Oklahoma City’s James Harden working as a glorified decoy at times when he plays with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, or New York’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony seemingly having difficulty working away from the ball.

    We demand perfection — constant activity, clipboard brilliance, screening, passing and the kind of whirring selflessness that would seem to make any fully engaged Heat or Thunder possession almost unguardable. But lulls happen in games, and they are probably inevitable. Basketball is too mentally and physically exhausting, defenses too good and well-prepared, for every half-court possession to be a masterpiece.

    Still, there is a long continuum between extreme stagnancy and perfect five-man activity, and Miami has proved for two seasons now that it is vulnerable when its star-laden offense falls too far toward the stagnant end. The Heat have a better bench this season, but when the pressure is high, their three stars will play more minutes together, and they will have to score effectively in the half court. Two of those stars, Wade and James, have similar skill sets, and neither is a knockdown three-point shooter who can space the floor simply by running around screens. Miami has to be more creative than that.

    At its best, Miami is a fast-moving beast with Wade, James and Chris Bosh working off each other to create openings. The Heat are beatable when they go through long stretches of “your turn, my turn” predictability. Coach Erik Spoelstra can stop these funks only periodically by calling a timeout, drawing up a play or two and sending his team back out. The Heat too often looked uninspired in going “just” 19-13 after the All-Star break, including several losses to their main championship competition — teams with defenses that generally chew up predictable, spacing-challenged offenses. Could Miami rediscover the gear it showed earlier in the season?

    Bad news for the league: Through two playoff games, it’s clear that Miami is reinvigorated on offense. Good news for the league: It has been only two games against an overmatched Knicks team whose best defender, center Tyson Chandler, suffered a poorly timed case of the flu and whose second-best defender, rookie guard Iman Shumpert, is out for the season with a torn ACL. Still, the early results are encouraging: Miami — which goes for a 3-0 series lead on Thursday in New York — is leaning on some basic actions in which its star players work together on and off the ball, rather than having everyone stand around while James or Wade runs a high pick-and-roll.

    None of this stuff is complicated, which makes it frustrating when it vanishes from Miami’s offense. Take the simple cross screen that Bosh set for Wade under the rim on three consecutive possessions during Game 2:

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  • Published On 1:30pm, May 03, 2012
  • With or without Chris Bosh, Heat still expected to trounce New York

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    Chris Bosh could miss Game 3 to be with his wife and newborn baby. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Chris Bosh flew from Miami to New York in the wee hours to be with his wife upon the birth of their new baby, and could miss Game 3 Thursday in New York. (David Aldridge reported Thursday morning that Bosh is expected to play, but Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Bosh will be a game-time decision.)

    The appropriate reaction here is to congratulate Bosh and his family, and to commend both him and the Heat for having their priorities in order. Players handle this kind of thing differently; Bosh’s teammate, Shane Battier, famously hit a game-winning three against the Spurs in the playoffs last season and flew back home to see his newborn baby later that day. No two such situations are identical, in terms of timing and family preference, and it would have been perfectly fine for Bosh to skip a playoff game and see his new son.

    On the other hand, some Toronto fans still haven’t forgiven Vince Carter for attending his college graduation on the morning of Game 7 of the 2001 conference semifinals against the Sixers — probably because Carter shot 6-of-18 in that game and missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer. Results always inform perception.

    Those of us applauding Bosh should theoretically do so in the future regardless of whether the player in question misses a Game 3 with his team up 2-0 or Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Thankfully, we don’t have to confront the dilemma, since the Heat are up 2-0 against a depleted Knicks team with one healthy big man who actually plays like a big man offensively. In other words: While the Heat are very thin up front without Bosh, the Heat shouldn’t need him to beat New York on Thursday and extend the Knicks’ 11-year playoff winless streak.

    With Amar’e Stoudemire out, the Knicks will start Carmelo Anthony at power forward, an ideal time for Miami coach Erik Spoelstra to go smaller and shift LeBron James to the same position. The Knicks confounded opponents during a late-season stretch in which Anthony played power forward, but the Heat are better equipped than any team to deal with this wrinkle. If Bosh misses the game, Udonis Haslem will play center, and as John Schuhmann notes, that would leave the Heat starting a lineup that has either played about 16 minutes together this season (if Battier starts for Bosh) or one that has played just five minutes this season (if Miller starts for Bosh). The Heat have mixed and matched all sorts of small lineups this season, but the most typical involve LeBron playing with at least one backup as Spoelstra substitutes for Wade and/or Bosh late in the first and third quarters. Read More…

  • Published On 11:12am, May 03, 2012
  • Best tweets about Amar’e Stoudemire

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    By Nicki Jhabvala,

    Following the Knicks’ Game 2 loss in Miami on Monday, Amar’e Stoudemire took his frustration out on an innocent fire extinguisher outside the visitors’ locker room. Paramedics were called to the scene after he punched the glass-encased extinguisher, ripped open his non-shooting hand and left a trail of blood at AmericanAirlines Arena.

    Those who were on hand for the incident shared details — as amusing and strange and horrifying as they were — on Twitter, while those tracking the news remotely chimed in with their thoughts on Amar’e's self-inflicted wound, which will keep him out of Game 3 and maybe the rest of the series. Here are some of the more memorable tweets from Stoudemire’s rage-fueled night, including one from the smashed fire extinguisher itself …

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  • Published On 2:10pm, May 01, 2012
  • Amar’e Stoudemire loss = Knicks’ gain?

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    Paramedics had to stitch up Amar'e Stoudemire's non-shooting hand after Tuesday's game in Miami because he punched a glass-encased fire extinguisher. (AP)

    The Knicks, obviously, cannot go through the NBA season like a normal team. Every team has its share of drama, and much of the craziness that engulfed the Knicks this season was of the good variety, like the rise of Jeremy Lin from nowhere and his transformation into one of the biggest sports stars in the world.

    But there has also been much ugliness, peaking with the 24-hour period in mid-March when anonymous sources leaked that Carmelo Anthony had requested a trade, other anonymous sources leaked that Anthony’s teammates were furious with him for hijacking Mike D’Antoni’s offense upon his return from injury, and D’Antoni finally resigned after concluding he would be unable to coach Anthony. Mike Woodson replaced D’Antoni, and suddenly Anthony could be bothered to work hard on defense, even admitting that he was focusing under Woodson at bringing an “energy” he hadn’t played with under D’Antoni.

    The drama stopped for a while as the Knicks improved defensively under Woodson and Anthony began hitting an unsustainable number of isolation shots. But it returned in true New York fashion after Game 2 in Miami on Tuesday night, when Amar’e Stoudemire, frustrated by something, punched the glass enclosure of a fire extinguisher, cut his hand, received an unknown number of stitches and left Miami in a sling. He will miss Game 3 and may be done for the rest of the series, which the Knicks trail 2-0.


    As I and others have noted repeatedly this season, Stoudemire just hasn’t helped the Knicks, mostly because the Anthony/Stoudemire combination has been a disaster. The Knicks outscored opponents by about 3.2 points per game, but with Stoudemire on the floor, opponents beat them by about three points per 100 possessions. That number got even worse — about four per game — when Stoudemire and Anthony shared the court, per’s stats database.

    The Knicks have suffered from something of a catch 22 with this pairing: They cannot play the Anthony/Stoudemire duo without Tyson Chandler because it would be defensive suicide. But playing Chandler with the two stars has sabotaged the offense because Chandler and Stoudemire play roughly the same role in any functioning offense — pick-and-roll screener — and are not skilled enough perimeter shooters or off-ball cutters to work a secondary role. Read More…

  • Published On 12:09pm, May 01, 2012
  • Mike D’Antoni era ends prematurely

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    Mike D'Antoni resigned as coach of the Knicks after three-plus seasons and a 121-167 record. (Andrew Gobmert/Landov)

    It’s a stunning move, particularly for a coach who understands that building a successful basketball team requires time, practice, luck and chemistry: Mike D’Antoni has resigned as coach of the Knicks after three-plus seasons in which he coached approximately 27 versions of the Knicks. The last of those was the most promising, with the emergence of a productive point guard celebrity in Jeremy Lin, surrounded by two allegedly top-shelf scorers and a dominating defensive center who doubled as a pick-and-roll finisher supreme.

    That version of the Knicks lasted 10 games, losing eight, before D’Antoni apparently decided he had had enough of the mess a whole bunch of factors conspired to create. His resignation comes amid a classic New York day of anonymous back-biting, with sources close to the team leaking all manner of controversy to the city’s three main news outlets: that Carmelo Anthony, whose return from injury marked the start of that fatal 2-8 stretch, had requested a trade after Monday’s loss in Chicago; that D’Antoni had lost control of the locker room, whatever that really means; and that Anthony had alienated his teammates by breaking from D’Antoni’s offense, screwing up New York’s spacing, calling his own number and (more often than not) missing bad shots.

    The Knicks failed across the board over those 10 games. Their offense, terrible all season, mostly sputtered. The Knicks rank 23rd overall in points per possession, and even at the height of Melo-less Lin craze, they were scoring only at an average rate against a weak schedule. Their defense, ranked a very strong 10th overall in points allowed per possession, was even stingier without Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire around, and it carried the Knicks during the blissful seven-game winning streak that captivated the world. That defense has predictably regressed upon the return of one lazy defender (Anthony) and one willing but powerless one (Stoudemire); the Knicks have allowed a points per possession mark worse than the league’s 30th-ranked defense (New Jersey) in each of their last four games, though two of those came with Tyson Chandler sitting due to injury. Read More…

  • Published On 5:20pm, Mar 14, 2012
  • Knicks face huge challenge on offense

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    Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony have yet to click, but it's still early in the Knicks' development. (Matthew Emmons/US Presswire)

    You could see the story playing out in advance before Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni re-inserted Carmelo Anthony and Jeremy Lin for Josh Harrellson and Baron Davis with 3:57 left Tuesday in Dallas after a motley mix of bench players and one starter (Amar’e Stoudemire) had cut the Mavericks’ 14-point fourth-quarter lead to two. You knew that when Dallas made its run, almost mathematically inevitable, a pseudo-controversy would spring up over whether D’Antoni should have left “the bench” in, and whether the Anthony/Lin pairing is doomed.

    You knew this would be so even though the hero of the bench, Steve Novak, remained on the court for another 90 seconds as the Mavs scored eight straight points to basically clinch the game. You knew the ensuing controversy, fueled by Anthony’s postgame comments about his changing role, would (in some corners) be devoid of the complicated context within which it actually exists.

    Some of that context:

    • The Knicks’ blissful Linsanity stretch — eight games in which Anthony essentially didn’t play because of injury — featured a schedule filled with lottery teams and home games. The schedule has gotten slightly more challenging and road-heavy since then, and New York has predictably struggled.

    • During the non-Anthony portion of Linsanity, the Knicks scored 100.85 points per 100 possessions, according to Hoopdata. That would rank about 14th in the NBA. The Knicks, in other words, played average offense against a weak schedule with Lin as the offensive centerpiece.

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  • Published On 1:19pm, Mar 07, 2012
  • The Carmelo-Jeremy Lin fit test, Pt. 1

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    The Knicks cut into the Nets’ lead during the middle of the fourth quarter Monday night using a lineup that did not include Jeremy Lin or any traditional point guard. Then Lin came back into the game, and the Knicks, needing to play almost perfect offense in order to have any chance to win, did this with 5:20 left in the game:

    The skill level of the five New York players on the floor here is so high that this set is dangerous even though the three players surrounding the initial Lin/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll — Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire on the left side, J.R. Smith in the right corner — do not move at all as that play unfolds. Despite that lack of motion, there is a brief moment when Stoudemire is open on the left baseline as Kris Humphries slides into the paint to help on Chandler. And any possession that ends with Melo isolating on Anthony Morrow counts as a well-used possession. Still, you can’t help but ask for more, just as we asked for more off-ball motion from Miami’s stars all of last season.

    The challenge of re-integrating Anthony into the Lin Knicks centers on two things: Read More…

  • Published On 10:47am, Feb 21, 2012
  • J.R. Smith a mixed bag for Knicks

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    J.R. Smith electrifies fans with his shooting -- and aggravates coaches with his shot selection and defense. (US Presswire)

    You have to love the Knicks. They’ve won seven consecutive games, possess the league’s sixth-stingiest defense (in terms of points allowed per possession) and have scored at an elite level with Jeremy Lin on the floor (in a limited sample size, of course). Landry Fields is finding his game (if not his three-point shot, at least consistently), Tyson Chandler is playing All-Star ball on both ends of the court and Carmelo Anthony is due back from a groin injury any day now. Things are generally humming.

    So, of course, the Knicks on Friday were set to sign J.R. Smith, one of the league’s most mercurial players, to a one-year deal worth the prorated portion of their $2.5 million “room” cap exception.  (Update: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that the deal includes a second-year player option worth around $2 million, which has little impact on New York’s 2012-13 cap situation). He chose the Knicks over the Clippers, who could have used the 6-foot-6 Smith, if only for his legitimate shooting-guard size. Los Angeles had only the veteran’s minimum salary to offer.

    Smith has been frustrating over the last few seasons precisely because you can see the player he could be if he just eliminated all the needless chaos that blurs an otherwise fine game — the ill-advised heat-check shots, the gambling on defense, the out-and-out wandering on defense that causes him to lose track of shooters. You want to shout at Smith, “Just do a little less, and you’ll find more!” But he has never done it, and he’s 26, about to start his eighth NBA season after a stint in China.

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  • Published On 11:43am, Feb 17, 2012